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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 18.0° F  Overcast
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That'll teach 'em
When lemonade stands come with a lesson plan

I was riding my bike around the lake the other day, and I happened to pass a lemonade stand. Normally, I wouldn't stop, since I carry a water bottle, but the sign the kids had put up intrigued me. Under "LEMONADE" it said, "Pay What You Want." So I pulled over and asked them how they were doing. They said they were doing great. "And are you selling a lot of lemonade?" I asked. They said they were but didn't say how much. "How much does the average customer pay?" I asked. They said it varied a lot, but that the average was probably around a quarter. "Why don't you just charge a quarter, then?" I asked. And they said they wanted everybody to be able to have a glass, whether they could afford one or not. I won't tell you what I paid for mine, but I just wanted your readers to know that there's a generation of kids coming up who don't see things the way we did when we were kids.

Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward: Thanks for sharing that heart-warming tale about our country's budding capitalists. And assuming those kids weren't employing the most devious marketing strategy of all time (the ol' sincerity gambit), they are indeed an inspiration to those of us who used to squeeze every ounce of juice out of our lemons. And by "juice" I mean profit. And by "lemons" I mean lemonade mix, which our parents paid for, along with the pitcher, Dixie cups, table, chairs, cigar box and sign-making materials. Lemonade stands have always been considered the hallmarks of capitalism, teaching youngsters how to survive in the marketplace, but they're really closer to socialism, if not communism. Call it free enterprise if you want, but only because Mom and Dad suppy all the capital for free.

Not always, of course. There are often stories of parents who make their kids provide their own lemonade mix and Dixie cups, who charge rent on the pitcher, the table, the chairs, even the space at the end of the driveway. These kids undoubtedly learn a valuable lesson, which is that their parents are complete dicks. As you may be able to tell, Forward, I've never really bought the idea that lemonade stands prepare our youth for a life of entrepreneurship. I think, at best, they prepare them for a career driving an ice-cream truck and/or working at Starbucks. Oh, and for bake sales, which are lemonade stands for grownups. One of these days, the Harvard Business School will do a case study on your average bake sale and determine that the cost-price ratio would have both Adam Smith and Karl Marx spinning in their graves. Of course, neither Adam Smith nor Karl Marx ever sampled a Quadruple Fudge Brownie with Caramel Topping.

Just as conservative parents can go over the top teaching their kids a lesson about free enterprise, liberal parents can go over the top teaching their kids a lesson about expensive enterprise - where those lemons came from, how much it cost to ship them here, who picked them, how much they made picking them, etc. I'm not saying kids shouldn't be taught these things. Of course they should, but maybe not on the very day when they're trying to make an honest buck. A better way to go, in my opinion, is to teach them how to split the profits - some socially acceptable combination of spending, saving and donating. Lots of kids give it all away, of course, a selfless gesture that makes entrepreneur/philanthropist Bill Gates look like Ebenezer Scrooge. I also like the sliding-pay scale that those Madison kids came up with. If I could just convince some of our local bars to try that idea, I'd be in business.

Think I'm too tart? Add more sugar by writing to: Mr. Right, Isthmus, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703.Or call 251-1206, Ext. 152. Or email

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